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Rogue Operators: Secondary Ticketing, Touts and Bots

20 billion.

That is the number of global bot attacks to have hit Ticketmaster since July 2017, according to Ticketmaster’s UK MD, Andrew Parsons, speaking at Wednesday’s DCMS select committee hearing on ticketing,

So that’s 20,000,000,000 – a staggering number… 20,000,000,000 attempts to purchase tickets illegally and that thankfully are being detected and declined. And remember, that’s just on one platform, albeit the world’s largest - a timely reminder as to just how massive an issue this type of fraudulent activity is.

And that doesn’t include the ones that get through…

Thankfully, due to the combined efforts of Ticketmaster’s (and others) extensive development of anti-bot software, combined with enforcement of legislation passed in July 2018, the threat posed by fraudulent ticketing ‘attacks’ through bots does now seem to be at least under control.

Thanks to the tireless campaigning of the MMF-backed FanFair Alliance, and a raft of parliamentary support and consumer pressure, the law and its enforcement have now combined to stem the tide of secondary ticketing here in the UK.

Indeed, with Ticketmaster set to wind up Seatwave and GetMeIn by next month – two of the four major players in the secondary market – ticket resale reform is well and truly underway, here in the UK. And not before time. As Kilimanjaro Live MD Stuart Galbraith commented yesterday, reforms to the UK market are […] starting to clear up the acne that has bighted our industry, and coming to the point where there is one major boil left to lance – Viagogo.”

Make no mistake, the focus of much of Wednesday’s hearing was on Ticketmaster, and with good reason. As the committee reminded us, at the first enquiry ten years ago, Ticketmaster itself was vocal in its opposition to the secondary market, since which, it became a major player in that market, acquiring Get Me In and Seatwave. Defending their decision, Ticketmaster maintained that acquiring Seatwave “provided it with the technological means to enhance the Ticketmaster offering”…

Live Nation, owner of Ticketmaster, at the time appeared to justify its participation in the secondary market on the basis it had to be active wherever its competitors were, including the ‘grey market’, as then COO, Live Nation, Paul Latham commented: “Why should artists that put their creativity on display, or promoters that risk millions in artist guarantees, not try to harness some of that grey market?”

Granted, in the same post he wrote for MusicTank in lieu of participating in our 2012 Ticketing Summit, he did point to technology’s potential to increase security and the need for “supporting legislation” – both of which are coming true. It’s just disappointing that it’s taken this long.

How things have changed – the pace of technological change has positively affected the ticketing industry, though the lack of scalability of technological solutions to touting means it will remain the preserve of the biggest artists for some time to come. With ticketing platforms increasingly providing for genuine re-sale, and the brilliant Viagogo campaign waged byClaire Turnham, the tide has definitely turned on for-profit secondary platforms, with new entrants like AXS capping re-sale rates.

One question remains however. If the consumer experience on primary sites was better - had the investment made in the secondary market by primary operators instead have been put into enabling the frictionless purchase of tickets from primary sources, would that have not starved the secondaries out of existence in the first place?

In common with many, I long ago gave up trying to secure tickets for big-name concerts, frustrated by inadequate primary market websites unable to deal with release-day demand; nor have I engaged with the nefarious secondary market.

Initiatives from the primary market to address this, such as Ticketmaster’s Verified Fan have met with a mixed response, no doubt in part due to theengagement layer’ that some artists such as Taylor Swift choose to incorporate. Essentially this boils down to an enhanced chance of securing primary tickets according to how much you spend on albums and merchandise, the number of views, shares and likes on social media and so-on… but with no guarantee.

Great that it plays to ‘fandom’, not-so-great that it can boil down to effectively buying your status as a fan.

Another major issue coming out of yesterday’s DCMS hearing was the role that online advertising plays in the secondary market. In the firing line was Google, who appear to contradict its own T&Cs of its Adwords service. These T&Cs prohibit the advertising of fraudulent goods and services, yet it appears entirely complicit in facilitating Viagogo’s consistent top-level search ranking for tickets that typically either don’t exist, or have been fraudulently obtained or are specifically banned from re-sale. Not for the first time, this tech Behemoth is out of step with core business, quite possibly the law, and most certainly without due reference to a moral compass, all the while, seemingly able to evade responsibility and accountability…

There’s plenty more to be done. For starters… ticketing platforms’ commercial arrangements with touts and so-called ‘power sellers’; addressing the monopolistic vertical market integration of venues, promoters, agents and ticketing that stifle competition; the ability or otherwise to identify the 10,000 or so multiple purchasers that slip through the ‘net’ annually on Ticketmaster alone.

As for Viagogo’s ‘no-show’ yesterday, it was as unsurprising as it was predictable, and speaks volumes about the most vexatious operator in the business.

The UK ticketing industry appears to be in a better place, even if some of its key players have been dragged kicking and screaming due to the light shone on it by campaigners.

And undoubtedly, just as technology is part of the problem, it is absolutely part of the solution.

Editorial by Jonathan Robinson, Programme Director, MusicTank

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